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A story by Hilary Beard

The Cornish Archive at Kresen Kernow holds recordings of Paul residents talking about life in Paul from the 1900s onwards.  Sadly, these fascinating records cannot be reproduced without the written permission of a relative. Members of the Oral History Project went to hear these accounts of village life and one of the volunteers decided to combine some of these into a short story. There are questions at the end in the hope that you might also be inspired to create some art work of your own about life in Paul.

Tubbin Fights, Knickety Knack and Rag Rugs


Have you ever got into trouble for playing pranks?  Perhaps you’d call them practical jokes or some such.  Well I can tell you, when I was a child I tried some awful pranks which got me a right whack.  So I’m going to tell you about some of these, but I’m going to change the names because I don’t want no more fuss than there’s been already…..


Now I want to be clear, I don’t think we meant no harm.  We got bored, d’you see?  Especially in the long holidays.  There were no television, nor hardly any books or radios.  We’d wake early and if we were lucky we’d be given a cup of milk and a bit of bread before we’d be sent out of the house and told not to come back till tea time.  Off we’d go round the village and fields to see what we could find.  On a good day, one of the farmer’s wives would be baking and would give us a piece of fresh bread. Nothing tasted finer. But some days no-one wanted us with our muddy boots and hungry stares. So we’d look for anything to give us a bit of fun.  Now, anyone who was a bit different made us curious.  And sometimes we dared each other to play tricks on them.


Miss Brown lived on her own at the edge of the village.  She was a teacher from Mousehole who pretty much kept herself to herself.  No one we knew had ever been in her house, but us children had glimpsed her shiny stone flags when she scrubbed her front doorstep.  She always looked severe under her bonnet and the way she beat her rag rugs on the washing line made us imagine she was beating the hell out of someone.


I don’t know who started it.  Maybe it was me or Billy Spit.  We’d dared each other to go ‘tubbin’ before and this day we knew where we’d go.  Now in a ‘tubbin’ fight you’d throw clods of earth at each other, but sometimes, for a dare, you’d throw the clods at houses that had just been cleaned.  Billy and I had worked out we’d go to Miss Brown’s house when all was quiet, after the cows had been milked. We found some good muddy clods of earth and got ready.  With a clod in each hand we hid ourselves beneath the wall of her garden.  We knew she’d be inside and without a word we each chucked our clods at her door and ran away as fast as we could into a nearby shed.  Now this shed stank of chicken’s shit and was that dusty we could hardly breathe.  We wanted to run off, but through a gap in the wooden slats we could see the front door opening. Well, Miss Brown’s face was a picture when she saw all that mud and grass on her clean door and step.  Screaming, she rushed out of her gate, ‘I’ll get you, you rascals! I can see you! I’ll be telling your mother, Tommy Pender!’  She kept looking up the road and shouting, not realizing we were in the shed right behind her.  Well, we wanted to laugh so much we had to bite our tongues.  That poor woman, she was looking everywhere, behind bushes, round the back, under her cart.  It seemed for ever before she went back in her door and we could escape. When we were far enough away we collapsed in a field and laughed and laughed.  I thought my sides would split. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much since.  They were wonderful times they were.


Now we weren’t quite so lucky another time.   It had been wet for days and my feet were so cold they were like wood.  My boots were that split and cracked  they hardly seemed worth the bother.  I often stumbled trying to run in them. I needed new ones but I’d not been able to earn any pence for ages.   I’d been going early to church to wait by the porch in case one of the farmers was taking on lads to pick stones or sort potatoes. But there’d been nothing.  My ma and the girls had enough on with cleaning and mending without us getting under their feet. So with nothing else to do me and Billy decided to play ‘knickety knack’.   Now this game needed a good hiding place near a window and a long stick.  You’d tap on a window with the stick while you hid out of sight.


 Well we pushed our luck this time.  We hid under Miss Brown’s window and tapped loud enough with our stick for it to sound like a knock on her door. We must have done it about four times, when out of the door she popped, like a cork out of a bottle.  Well, we ran for our lives but she was quicker than I thought.  She caught the end of my jacket and gave me such a whack I thought I’d been hit by a cart.  I’d never have dreamt she was that strong.  I don’t think we bothered her after that.  Surprisingly my ma didn’t say anything to me about it. I think she could tell I’d been given a lesson I wouldn’t forget in a hurry……

Some ideas for you:-


  • How might Miss Brown have described these pranks? Can you a write a story from her point of view?

  • How do these boys’ lives differ from your own experience of growing up in Paul?

  • Have you ever played practical jokes on anyone?  Does the story tell you anything about the consequences of practical jokes on others?

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